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Highland Park needs private investment as much as it needs to hold on to the dwindling number of residents in The City of Trees. Little wonder, then, that longtime resident Doris McCarver repeatedly thanks Jesus as she describes what's happening to her. 

McCarver is getting a Highland Park home bought and fixed up by a Detroit developer, Means Group Inc. The developer is also buying McCarver's longtime home because it has major plans for her street. McCarver and others, including Mayor Hubert Yopp, view it as a rare win-win, providing fresh investment and rewarding a resident who has been fiercely loyal to the community. 

"I need to pinch myself; is this true?" McCarver said as she stood in her future living room Thursday, surveying a fireplace, new laminated wood floor and a fresh coat of paint. She watched a crew of construction workers prepare to install new kitchen cabinets. She's getting new appliances, windows, an overhauled bathroom, a repaired roof — all paid for by the Means Group. 

"You asking me how I'm feeling, and, you know, I can't, I mean it's ..." She did not finish her sentence. She quietly wiped away tears, saying. "Thank you Jesus. Thank you."

Her pastor, Elder Calvin Landrew of Real Spirit Tabernacle, was standing beside McCarver. "Truly a blessing, truly," he said. 

Plans are for her to move into her new home on Hanna Street later in the week.

On Monday, Yopp will discuss the house swap during a press conference at McCarver's new home.  

"This benefits a resident and allows her to stay in the city. And we get potential major development. Both of those are good for the city," Yopp said in a Friday telephone interview. 

The Means Group and city officials are not ready to provide full details of the planned development, other to say that it will involve constructing a  450,000-square-foot industrial building, said Edward McNeil a development consultant working with Means Group. 

 "The majority of the land is vacant and Ms. McCarver was one of the few remaining residents still living in the area," he said.

Yopp said the development has the potential for "300 to 400 new jobs." 

As in Detroit, decades of disinvestment have staggered Highland Park, a small city surrounded by its much larger neighbor and a bit of Hamtramck. Highland Park population's peaked in the 1930s at 52,000, according to Census Bureau data.

 In 1992, Chrysler announced it was moving its headquarters out of Highland Park to Auburn Hills in Oakland County. State-appointed emergency managers ran the city between 2001 and 2009. The latest population estimate, taken in 2018, is 10,800, according to the Census Bureau.

More than half of the properties in Highland Park are owned by a public entity, either the Wayne County or state of Michigan land banks or the city, according to a 2018 city document. Typically, that means the properties were seized by one of the public entities because the previous owner stopped paying property taxes.

The street where McCarver has lived for more than 20 years is dotted with empty, weedy lots where homes used to sit and vacant houses that are open eyesores.

"People just walked away from the houses," said Yopp.

McCarver's story is part of Highland Park's rise, fall and possible rise again. Her family was among the 6 million African Americans who moved out of the rural South to the urban Midwest and Northeast in the early-to-mid 20th century. When McCarver was a child, her father moved the family from Tennessee to work at a Ford Motor Co. factory. 

"That's when Highland Park was Highland Park," McCarver said, who is now in her 60s.  "It was just so beautiful, so many trees, so many families," she said. 

McCarver stayed because, among other reasons, she was active at Real Spirit Tabernacle and felt connected to many residents. "I always find joy and strength in the people who are still here," she said. 

When the development group approached McCarver about buying her property, she was torn, she said.

"I didn't want to hold up the deal because progress is progress, and we need the jobs," she said. "But I didn't want to leave, so, I thought I was going to have to make a choice that made me kind of afraid." But then Means Group offered to buy her another home, fix it up and also pay her moving costs. 

"Again, I don't know what to say. Thank you Jesus." 

laguilar@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN 

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